The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 959: The History of Female Drummers

Many years ago when I was just a wee lad, I remember seeing The Carpenters on TV. The Carpenters First Television Special ran in 1976 and featured something rather amazing about fifteen minutes in. Karen Carpenter busted out with a drum solo, running from kit to kit playing some pretty hot licks that wouldn’t have been out of place in some big band or even some prog-rock gig of the era.

I’d seen and heard drum solos before, but this was different. It was a girl playing the drums.

My grandmother was watching with me and harrumphed “Look at that. A woman playing the drums. Not very ladylike. Look, she’s getting all sweaty. Imagine!

My young self was confused, too. I didn’t know girls could play the drums, so this was a revelation. And second, the Carpenters weren’t exactly rock, so I hadn’t paid much attention to them. And if I had, there was little in their music that indicated that Karen was such an accomplished drummer. I later learned that she didn’t consider herself a singer. She believed that she was a drummer who happened to sing.

And if there was one woman who could play this week, there had to be others. Were there more like Karen out there?

At the time–and again, this is the mid-70s–the answer was “not really.” But there were a few. And in the decades that followed, more and more appeared. Today, female drummers are everywhere, comprising a worldwide sisterhood some have called “Chicks with Sticks.”

But the road to acceptance wasn’t easy. There were plenty of roadblocks, plenty of skepticism, and loads and loads of sexism. Barriers needed to be broken down, attitudes changed, and abilities proven over and over again.

This is the story of women with rhythm who changed the way we look at music.

Eric Wilhite has this playlist for us.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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